Say Her Name

Say Her Name


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Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign launched by the African American Policy Forum, these poems pay tribute to victims of police brutality as well as the activists insisting that Black Lives Matter. Elliott engages poets from the past two centuries to create a chorus of voices celebrating the creativity, resilience, and courage of Black women and girls.

This collection features forty-nine powerful poems, four of which are tribute poems inspired by the works of Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley.

This provocative collection will move every reader to reflect, respond-and act.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781368045247
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 01/14/2020
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 321,678
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Zetta Elliott  is an award-winning author, scholar, and activist. Born in Canada, she moved to the US in 1994 to pursue her PhD in American Studies at NYU. She taught Black Studies at the college level for close to a decade and has worked with urban youth for thirty years. Her poetry has been published in New Daughters of AfricaWe Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices the Cave Canem anthology The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean SouthCheck the Rhyme: an Anthology of Female Poets and Emcees< /i> and Coloring Book: an Eclectic Anthology of Fiction and Poetry by Multicultural Writers. She is the author of over thirty books for young readers and currently lives in West Philadelphia. Visit to learn more.

Loveis Wise is a Freelance Illustrator and Designer from Washington D.C. Her work can be found in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Refinery29, and Buzzfeed. She currently lives in Philadelphia. 

Read an Excerpt



Black girl you are more than magic you are a miracle because we were never meant to survive not as human beings yet despite their best efforts to grind us down still we rise we strut dazzle
& defy the odds to claim the gold solve the equation hoist the trophy break all barriers
& set every trend so let them shun us we won't dim our shine we will luxuriate in the beauty we see in each other we will protect ourselves with rituals of healing we will dance beneath the new moon and pray beside the sea so that the ancestors know their blessings have been received


beloved let me sing you a lullaby let me wrap you in a tender embrace and rock you till you sleep let my flesh shield yours from bigots' bullets clinical indifference academic aggression and the callous gaze that sees a monster lurking inside your hooded eyes let me school you fill your mind with magic myths and truths no bars could contain let me build a world where you are safe to play in the park and swim in the pool and sit at your desk and sleep in your house and laugh in the street so that when you walk home from the store you reach me alive


for Alicia, Opal, & Patrisse

like alchemists you took our shame and turned it into pride you made rage respectable again and showed us how to move our bodies as one to occupy the streets where we are slain

beloved trinity we heeded your call and followed your lead got ourselves in formation got ourselves to the polls to the precincts and all the places we've never been wanted or seen or heard

they will try to pass the mic to the brothers standing behind you but we know the burden you bear as women Black immigrant queer

we will not let them erase you you are visible and valuable to us we humbly thank you, sisters for coining this affirmation for sparking this revolution for building this vital movement for upholding us with this steady love


march curse fume cry but save some of your salt to cure the rage so it lasts even longer

write a poem write a check

take a social media break take a long bath put lotion on your body then put your body in the street

don't waste your words on frauds be strategically silent or find the spaces of denial and shatter the silence with your screams

close your ears to the lies but listen to the cries of the weak and wounded keep the truth deep inside safe from the filthy fingers that warp everything they touch

let it throb ache and break over and over again but don't harden your heart harden your resolve instead

most of all
  feel something
  feel something
  feel something


don't touch my hair these locks are worth more than gold my crowning glory is my personal wealth so keep your hands to yourself I have no time for your simple curiosity or bald contempt
(do you wash it? comb it?
it looks so unkempt!)
you can ban my braids try to tame my 'fro even snatch my wig but you can never displace the ancient roots that reach deep into my soul and bind me to the very first Mother Africa springs proud and defiant from my oiled scalp my coils curls and kinks will persist so I insist that respect be shown my halo is not yours to regulate


some days it's okay to eat cupcakes instead of kale to pull on stretchy pants and a hoodie curl up on the sofa and watch online videos of baby goats prancing in pajamas it's okay to curl into your pillow when there's no one else to hold and let your tears soak the foam then order a large three other days you can go for a long run hit the gym or walk in the park find a body of water breathe deep lungfuls of fresh air see a matinee by yourself put on your cute clothes take a selfie have a salad with your slice doodle in your journal pet a dog you don't own see the beauty in small things topping pizza and finish that pint of coffee toffee bar crunch without anybody's help see the beauty in yourself even as you don your armor to make it through another day


for the women of Wakanda and the sisters in Oakland

if you want to be a princess that's your prerogative
(be like Shuri; learn to code)
I would rather be a panther sleek and wild an untamable beast who already knows how it feels to be free a fierce fighter feared and endangered protective of her young and ready to defend her territory you don't have to rock dark glasses black leather and a perfect Afro wear a dashiki if you want just keep their legacy alive
  feed the poor
  heal the sick
  fight the power
  know your rights
  and teach the youth
  the truth

driving while Black and woman can get you killed so check your blindspot, girl

rage is a blade so hold it carefully, keep it close but safely sheathed

just like Fannie Lou I question America who will answer me


if you ever dream of mothering dragons if you take tea with hobbits or call Hermione kin if you aren't afraid to walk leopards on leashes or ride on alligators don't lose your nerve folks may stare in wonder be quick to mock & malign but deep down they marvel at your daring
& envy your courage to be open about what it is you truly love it's not easy being alien but know that you are not alone we are abandoning the margins rejecting the boundaries of Blackness
& making more room for everyone


don't let the beauty of this world lose its allure

remember even roses can climb walls

we have been designed to overcome


If I could wrap my people in my arms,
I'd take them far from this chaotic place and shield my kin from every type of harm so that despair no longer shades each face.
But conductors always understood not all slaves can see the chains they wear, and roots so deeply bound to hostile soil cannot bear to be exposed — even in pursuit of freedom. Ida tried to lead us west but no land keeps its promise. The needle spins around and around, the compass useless in my palm. How can I serve my people?
Perhaps my arms should never seek to bind a race destined to redeem humankind.


Moon marked and touched by sun my magic is unwritten but when the sea turns back it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor untouched by blood unrelenting as the curse of love permanent as my errors or my pride I do not mix love with pity nor hate with scorn and if you would know me look into the entrails of Uranus where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell within my birth nor my divinities who am ageless and half-grown and still seeking my sisters witches in Dahomey wear me inside their coiled cloths as our mother did mourning.

I have been woman for a long time beware my smile I am treacherous with old magic and the noon's new fury with all your wide futures promised I am woman and not white.


I am still seeking my sisters swallowed by dense forests and insatiable seas the trees guided some girls back to their homes but the waves simply took their tears with silent sympathy

now bodies litter the beach flesh turned to flotsam this is no fairy tale though the story is grim

I once thought pirates only smuggled the most precious things black gold they called us still they emptied the Zong and sent 133 souls to the bottom of the sea

sisters you are not refuse though nations refuse you entry until your bloated bodies bob atop their waves your lives matter perhaps if we link arms across the sea we can stop this traffic too

till then may your souls find peace with the mother of the sea may our kin who leapt laughing into the yawning jaws of sharks wreathe you with pearls and may you tread weightless upon the seabed as the ancestors guide you back home


we will kneel on the field &
we will climb up that flagpole &
we will tear down that monument &
we will march through the streets &
we will occupy your sacred spaces &
we will disrupt traffic, making you LATE &
we will shout down new Nazis spewing the same old message of hate

we will accept your disappointment
  the shame is not ours you never we will exceed your expectations
  saw our true
    potential we will not apologize for our rage
  you earned every drop
    a tsunami
    is coming
    we are sounding
    the alarm


sometimes I eat my rage sometimes it eats me

how do I protest?
my words march across the page defiantly Black

queenhood divides us when one woman is placed above all others

we all need sisters like Solange who will fiercely fight on our behalf


some look for the shimmer of fairy dust on rose petals some wish on a shooting star some mix up a potion or utter a spell some follow the rainbow to its pot of gold but I make magic with the words in my mind I weave syllables into silver I tell lyrical lies that illuminate the darkest mind and make all doubters BELIEVE


We are wise. We will rise. We

fight hate. We tempt fate. We

risk all. We stand tall. We

provoke. We stay woke.


We can't breathe. We still seethe. We

stay mad. We break bad. We

hold rage. We rampage. We

scare you. We scared too.


No one at school knows what happens at the pier and Kevonn plans to keep it that way. I don't blame him. And I won't tell. On this side of the bridge he's got a home, parents who love him, homeboys who show him respect on and off the court. He's got what so many of us have had taken away, but it comes at a price. Here there is no magic,
no glamour. No feathery lashes, skin dusted with gold. Bodies bold and free. To touch, strut, twirl — just BE. Here there is still risk, but nowhere near the same reward. So he keeps his head down, looks no one in the eye. Laughs at every corny joke, gives as good as he gets.
Today in Bio I watched as he whistled on cue when Keisha walked by,
switching that perfect ass. Tyrell puckered his lips but she gave him the finger, eyes rolling as her diamond-tipped talon caught the light.
His boys howled so Tyrell had to save face: "Keep steppin', bitch. I don't want nothin' black but a Xbox." Then Ms. G turned from the board, looked him straight in the eye. "Boy," she demanded, "who taught you to hate your source?"


Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?
You are not your own, Mama reminds me
You are our pearl, Pastor says from the pulpit I am a good girl, Mama's consolation for one son in Rikers and another on the street one night out couldn't hurt, I tell myself one night with my friends instead of my books one drink just to help me relax and the room starts spinning it's easier to go down stairs than up so I go to the basement find a sofa to lie on wake to one hand pushing up my skirt two others clamped around my wrists a fourth on my ankle and a heavy palm on the back of my head pressing my screams into the cushion
Do you not know that my body is a temple
after a while I stop counting stop screaming the hands let go since there is no fight left in my limbs tears soak the cushion their laughter scrapes my ears then eternity ends and they are gone I slide onto the shag carpet pull myself up the wall my body is screaming but I stagger through the dark room to the door promised by a draft of cold air make my way up the block shivering vomiting gripping fence rails and lampposts feeling the disdain of neighbors who once beamed at me with pride Do you know why
I want to ask them How can it be that my body this temple has been defiled?


mic check one two one two Is this thing on?
Can you hear me now?
Gimme a beat — no wait

If my words don't rhyme will you still take the time to listen and learn or must I earn your attention with lyrical pretension?

My words bloom on the page;
you won't find me onstage sculpting air with my hands as my voice expands to fill the darkness ...

There's more than one way to be a poet.

Poems ring in my ears like bells no one else hears they grow quietly like moss on stone penned in secrecy once I'm alone

This antisocial introvert is tender-hearted and easily hurt but I turn the pain into verses so free the poem nurses me back to health.

I can't rank emcees,
and won't try to appease the poetry police.
My words are plain,
my message direct.
If you find me mundane,
just try to respect my delivery:
unique — like me.


Say her name and solemnly vow Never to forget, nor allow Our sisters' lives to be erased;
Their presence cannot be replaced.
This senseless slaughter must stop now.

We toiled in fields with sack and plow,
Swung next to our men on the bough.
Were violated, called unchaste.
Say her name.

Some say to Black men we must bow;
Our rights will trickle down somehow.
No problem's solved until it's faced,
But we have no time left to waste.
Our daughters with strength we endow —
Say her name.

you fear the shadow but it is the substance of us you most desire

your smile is not owed to any man — genuine compliments are free

magical Black girls are made of starshine and clay gaze at us in awe


won't you celebrate with me what i have shaped into a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon both nonwhite and woman what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up here on this bridge between starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight my other hand; come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.


I wish I knew how it feels to be free.
Is it roots or chains that keep us earthbound?
Maybe the stars do hold our destiny.

Displaced person, unwelcome refugee,
Alien, banned, forced to live underground ...
I wish I knew how it feels to be free.

We cross deserts seeking sanctuary,
Then the sea swallows us without a sound;
Maybe the stars do hold our destiny.

If we cannot live here with dignity,
A better home must finally be found So we may know how it feels to be free.

Our true source is a distant galaxy;
The journey here, a mystery profound.
The stars hold the key to our destiny.

Yearning for home binds our community;
Across the planet our cries will resound:
We want to know how it feels to be free!
To dwell amidst stars is our destiny.


in math class she spits rhymes pencil drumming on the desk I sit one row back pretending to solve equations scribbled on the board but really I'm writing down her dope lyrics as she says them over and over committing them to memory she doesn't know that I am her cloud she doesn't see how I hover try to shield her from the glare of sons she doesn't care what people think I wish I could be in/different like her but for now it's enough just to sit here behind her maybe one day she'll realize I've got her back


if you love me abdicate forfeit the crown they would place upon your head let humility bend your neck instead remember when you stand in the pulpit that to minister is to serve see in me your own divinity raise your fist smash pedestals be gentle with yourself take my hand walk beside me and I will show you how to create a world within yourself try a little tenderness because my heart is full of love for you, for us, and for all our people you don't have to be the man we can fight the man together if you're content to be levelly human remain humane fight for my right to be free like I fight for yours


Excerpted from "Say Her Name"
by .
Copyright © 2020 Zetta Elliott.
Excerpted by permission of Disney Book Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword, ix,
Introduction, xiii,
Black Girl Miracle, 4,
Lullaby, 6,
Black Lives Matter, 9,
How to Resist, 11,
Don't Touch My Hair, 13,
self/care, 16,
Panther, 18,
for my people, 21,
we shall overcome, 22,
Sonnet for Ida, 23,
"A Woman Speaks", 24,
Mermaids, 26,
Tsunami, 28,
Appetite, 30,
I Make Magic, 32,
We Are Wise, 33,
We Can't Breathe, 34,
The Source, 35,
Sacred, 36,
Mic Check, 38,
Say Her Name, 40,
"won't you celebrate with me", 42,
To Be Free, 43,
Her Cloud, 44,
The Crown, 45,
Anansi, 48,
Runaway, 49,
"On Being Brought from Africa to America", 50,
On Being Builders of a New World, 51,
Ascension, 53,
Free Them All, 56,
Sister, 57,
Hands Up, 59,
Mouse, 60,
Get Up, 64,
Rebel, 66,
Men Made of Glass, 67,
Women Like Us, 68,
a big blue sky poem, 70,
"For Saundra", 72,
'petty, 74,
Blessing, 76,
Notes, 79,
Acknowledgments, 87,

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